Fiction – paperback; Scribe UK; 272 pages; 2016. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
The late Georgia Blain’s last novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, has been shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize. The author died in December 2016, just a few days before her mother, the broadcaster (and “Omo lady”) Anne Deveson, passed away.
A domestic novel set in Sydney on a single rainy day, it is undercut with a back story (told flashback style) set three years earlier.
It’s largely told from the viewpoint of Ester, a therapist, who is estranged from her older sister, April, a one-time pop star who has lost her mojo. Ester is also estranged from Lawrence, the father of her children — twin daughters Catherine and Laura — but is close to her mother, Hilary, a widowed film maker, who has decided not to tell her children she’s dying of a brain tumour.
This sounds melodramatic, right? It’s not. The emotion is restrained, almost aloof, in this novel; Blain is careful to keep things in check, yet it’s full of dramatic moments. Indeed, the story is a chronicle of grief and anxiety, betrayal and strained relations — and that’s just the troubled patients that Ester listens to day in, day out in her therapy room; her own family has its own problematic, complicated past, and her ex-husband is in crisis having twiddled the numbers in his lucrative job as a pollster.
I admit that I struggled with this book. Mid-way through I began to wonder if it was ever going to end.
I’m not much a fan of domestic novels, though I do like explorations of the human heart — and this one does that superbly. Blain beautifully captures the stresses and strains between siblings, parents and children, and married couples.
But I was never able to fully lose myself in the story because the writing, which is too self conscious, too laboured, kept getting in the way. The prose style is showy and too heavily reliant on back story (for the smallest of details) and everything is over-explained. The endless references to rain also wears thin.
Outside, the rain continues unceasing; silver sheets sluicing down, the trees and shrubs soaking and bedraggled, the earth sodden, puddles overflowing, torrents coursing onwards, as the darkness slowly softens with the dawn.
The strong characterisation keeps the story afloat, however, even if no one appears to be terribly likeable or worthy of sympathy. These are artistic middle-class types, affluent, secure, complacent and a little bit annoying. Blain’s perceptive eye focuses on their every day sorrows and anxieties, and questions the role of forgiveness in easing heart-ache and pain. But for much of the time, I read this book wishing I could knock a few heads together. Get over yourselves, I wanted to yell, it’s not bloody worth it!
This is my fourth book for #AWW2017.